Radical acceptance is a term we’re hearing bandied about these days. Does it mean being cool with whatever curveball gets slung your way? Is it pretending everything’s just dandy when someone’s done you wrong? It most definitely doesn’t. A borrowed term from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), it’s a developed skill to help people cease fighting reality. It encourages you to accept life on life’s terms, even when something unfavorable is happening that might be outside of your control. So you’re not resisting what you cannot, or choose not, to accept. It’s about saying yes to life, just as it is.
Radical acceptance means that we’re acknowledging reality, we’re accepting what’s happened or is currently unfolding, because it’s fighting against it that actually causes our suffering. The universal truth is that pain in life is inevitable, but our suffering is optional. We don’t have to agree with whatever has gone down, like it, or approve of it, but we can accept that whatever it is, it’s real and it’s here. Therein lies our power. Because make no mistake, within a feeling of powerlessness, allowing the truth to just be is how we regain our footing and move back into alignment.
For example, you really want a promotion at work. Your boss has repeatedly hinted you’re her first choice for the coveted position. You’ve begun to look forward to the fun business trips, extra income, and creative accounts this upgrade would deliver you. Then your boss unexpectedly announces she’s going with someone else rather than you. You may feel gutted and disappointed. But instead of honoring those overwhelming emotions by actually feeling them, you focus on refusing to accept this new reality by saying, “This isn’t fair!” “It shouldn’t be this way!” “It should’ve been me!” and you stay stuck in the injustice of it all. The pain is not getting that job you really wanted. The suffering is what you choose to do with that pain, and how you interpret it, by denying it. Fighting against it only intensifies your emotional reaction and propels you into suffering itself. Radical acceptance is about getting with the program and whatever is at hand, being present with your emotions, and moving away from “what should have been” (always a lesson in futility).
And you know what? It’s tiring to rail against reality. It’s ultimately useless, and we end up spinning our wheels, wasting time. Refusing to accept that you didn’t get the promotion, the guy cheated on you, or you didn’t get into your first-choice college doesn’t change anything, but only adds to the pain of the actual experience. It doesn’t mean you throw up your hands or give in—on the contrary, once you accept reality, you can then consider if you have options to change it, as you’re more level-headed. Acceptance means that you shift your resistance thought loop into more deliberate, self-coaching thoughts such as, “OK, this has happened. I’m in this situation. I don’t approve of it, but it is what it is. I can’t change that it took place. It’s hugely disappointing. How do I want to move forward and handle it?” Exemplary radical acceptance in action, right there.
The great news is that by practicing radical acceptance, your reactions are less intense, and you can get into problem-solving mode quicker by being present with What Is. It may initially feel different when you’re used to staying stuck in the narrative of “it shouldn’t be this way,” but consistently using radical acceptance can fast-track you right out of a victim mindset! The next time you catch yourself railing or disputing something when it occurs, remember that if you can first accept reality as it is, by not pushing against it, but by instead staying with the feelings themselves, you will channel your energy into moving through whatever is unfolding, with ease and grace. And isn’t that always the goal? #livingyourbestlife